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‘Green Islam’ draws journalists to Indonesia

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Sometime early last year I stumbled upon a article Two academics describe the rise of the “green Islamic” movement in Indonesia. One line in particular stood out: Muslim environmentalists there see themselves as “khalifas,” or guardians of the earth.

As Southeast Asia bureau chief for The New York Times, I know this is a story i want to tell. It blends religion and environmentalism—two themes I want to focus on when reporting on Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country and the largest emitter of greenhouse gases. In a sea of ​​negative press, this is a story of hope.

Together with Hasya Nindita, one of The Times’ freelance writers in Indonesia, I set out to find ways to explain this movement. I live in Bangkok and at first I wasn’t sure if our story would be enough. I am aware of several initiatives by Muslim activists to promote environmentalism in Indonesia, but it is difficult to say how widespread their influence is. So we’re constantly collecting information.

Then in early November, we heard that Muhammadiyah Green Cadre, the environmental arm of Indonesia’s second-largest Islamic organization, was co-sponsoring a seminar on Islamic attitudes toward climate change. Hasiya contacted the founder of the volunteer tree-planting group Green Army, who told her that although the group did not promote an explicit religious message, their motivation was Islamic.

I decided to travel to Indonesia because I knew there would be more stories to tell there.

After obtaining a journalist visa, I traveled to Indonesia’s sprawling capital, Jakarta, in early December. On Thursday morning, I stopped by the Istiqlal Mosque, which recently installed solar panels and was the first place of worship to receive World Bank green building honors. But when Hassia and I arrived, the staff told us there were no solar panels in sight; we needed to make a reservation first.

“Okay,” I replied. “But can we talk to the Grand Imam?”

A few hours later, I sat with the mosque’s leader, Grand Imam Naseeruddin Omar, and he told us how shocked he was to see trash in the river surrounding the mosque when he started working in 2016 . He said he hopes to help convert 70 percent of Indonesia’s 800,000 mosques into “eco-mosques,” or ecological mosques.

The next day I returned to the mosque for Friday prayers. In his sermon, the Grand Imam listed all the ways in which people are disrespectful of the environment.

When I heard him say, “The greedier we become about nature, the sooner the world will end,” I knew how I was going to start my article.

But I knew going to Jakarta was not enough. Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world and consists of 38 provinces. If I want to understand the significance of a movement, I need to look beyond the capital.

So the next day I took a 90-minute flight to Yogyakarta, where I met Elok Faiqotul Mutia, a young environmentalist. An organization was set up to educate young people about climate change. Through crowdfunding, her group raised more than $5,300 to install solar panels on a small mosque, she said.

A few hours later, I visited the mosque with Hassia and photojournalist Oulette Ivan Sasti. We met Ananto Isworo, the director of the mosque. It was obvious that he had been waiting to discuss this topic. He told us that over the years many of his peers had called him a “crazy Ustaz” or a “crazy Muslim teacher” and said preaching about environmental issues had nothing to do with religion.

We continued to Pang Viet and then Lumajang in East Java. There we met Ak Abdullah Qudus, the founder of the Green Army Volunteers. We hiked about 500 meters up the hillside with a group of sixth graders, where we saw them praying as they planted trees for the first time.

The next day, we returned to Jakarta and drove about two hours to Bogor to meet with Hayoo Prabowo, the environmental protection director of the Ulama Council, the highest Islamic authority in Indonesia. He invited us to visit his river cleanup project.

Unlike places like Iran, where fatwas (religious edicts) can be issued by individuals, in Indonesia fatwas can only be issued by ulama committees. Mr Hayo is proud of all the environmental laws he has passed. He cited research that found fatwas outlawing deforestation and peatland clearing, or banning them, are changing Indonesia’s attitudes toward these activities.

When I come back to Bangkok I have to report first indonesia election. None of the presidential candidates talk much about environmental issues.

But when I started writing my article green islam movement, I thought of the Grand Imam and all the Muslim environmentalists I met. I realized that it is individuals, not institutions, who drive change.

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